Cal Ripken walked into his manager's office before the game with a simple, stunning message: "I think the time is right."
After 16 years and 2,632 consecutive games, the 38-year-old third baseman sat out of Sunday night's game against the New York Yankees with just one week left in the season.
"I don't feel a sense of relief. I don't feel much different," Ripken said after the game. "Now that I know what it feels like I don't want to sit and watch a game anymore."
He said he would return to the starting lineup Monday night at Toronto.
Ripken was not hurt, but with the Baltimore Orioles out of playoff contention and playing their final home game, he decided to end the string that began on May 30, 1982.
The end came during a magical season that has featured the historic home-run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, a perfect game by David Wells and the Yankees' pursuit of the AL record for victories.
"What Cal did is so unbelievable. That's one record I do think that will be around for a generation,"baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "What he's done, he's done a great thing for baseball."
| Cal Ripken tips his cap to the sellout crowd before the game vs. the New York Yankees. (AP) |
Albert Belle of the Chicago White Sox played his 327th straight game Sunday, the next-longest string in the majors.
There had been recent talk Ripken would volunteer to end the streak, which broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 straight games. Before the game, Ripken walked into Miller's office and asked to have his name removed from the lineup. Rookie Ryan Minor started in his place.
"The emphasis should be on the team," Ripken said. "There have been times during the streak when the emphasis was on the streak. I was never comfortable with that."
One out into the game, when it became evident that Ripken would not be playing, all of the Yankees walked to the top step of the dugout and applauded.
Ripken emerged from the Orioles dugout, tipped his hat toward the Yankees and stepped back down to the bench. With the sellout crowd standing and cheering, Ripken came out again and bowed to his fans.
There was an immediate rush to the souvenir stands at Camden Yards, with fans lining up to buy programs to the mark the historic night.
As the game progressed, Ripken appeared relaxed as he laughed with teammates on the bench. He then watched much of the game from the Orioles bullpen, occasionally shaking hands with fans and posing for pictures.
He emerged in the sixth inning to warm up left fielder B.J. Surhoff and chatted with his best friend on the team, center fielder Brady Anderson.
Ripken also shook hands with fans in the bleachers along the outfield wall, much in the same fashion he did when he broke Gehrig's record. This time, however, he wore a warmup jacket over his uniform.
Ripken pulled himself a week before finishing his 16th straight season of playing every game. He finally did it only after the Orioles had no real chance of making the playoffs, and thus avoided yet another winter filled with answering questions about the streak.
Ripken was batting .273 with 14 home runs and 61 RBI.
His numbers are among the lowest of his career, which began in 1981. His streak began the next season, when he became the AL Rookie of the Year.
It started when Ronald Reagan was still in his first term as president. It was overseen by eight managers -- including his father, Cal Sr. -- and lasted longer than most baseball careers. It was analyzed, criticized and scrutinized.
And now, it seems to be over.
After he told Miller of his decision, Ripken called Orioles owner Peter Angelos and calmly told him.
"He just said it very typically Cal. o melodrama, no emotion," Angelos said. "Just flatly, `This is what I'm going to do.' In a very thoughtful way, he said, 'I know you would like to know before I do this and I thought I should tell you."
While it appears no one will ever again play in 2,632 consecutive games, the man who broke Gehrig's seemingly unbreakable record by more than 500 isn't so sure the record will be his for eternity.
Sept. 6, 1995, Ripken passed Gehrig's record. Then a shortstop, Ripken became the sport's all-time iron man June 14, 1996, when he played in his 2,216th consecutive game -- surpassing the record previously held by Japan's Sachio Kinugasa.
After he broke Kinugasa's record in Kansas City, Ripken was asked if he thought the mark would remain his forever.
"A lot of people think this is a great, great accomplishment," Ripken said.
"It's just that the right combination of things happened in my baseball career that allowed me to do that."
Ripken had played in every Orioles game since that day in 1982 when Earl Weaver started him at third base after giving him a break in the second game of a doubleheader one day earlier.
Ripken moved to shortstop June 30 of that season and stayed at the position for 2,216 games before Manny Alexander replaced him while Ripken moved to third July 15, 1996.
Baseball's humble hero, Ripken was credited by many with singlhandedly saving baseball in the aftermath of the bitter 1994 players' strike that canceled the World Series and alienated fans from New York to Seattle.
The streak was something poetic at a time many thought baseball had lost its romance.
Ripken did not establish his streak by playing timidly. He dived and leapt and slid with the best of them, and there were plenty of close calls that almost brought the streak to an end.
The scariest moment came in the middle of the 1997 season, when back spasms nearly forced Ripken to sit out a game in Anaheim. But he played in pain, hit the game-winning home run and kept the streak intact through the end of the season.
Ripken also came close to benching himself in 1993 after he twisted his knee during a fight with the Seattle Mariners. Ripken finished the game, and although his knee was swollen and painful the following afternoon, he didn't even miss infield practice.
Then there was the bizarre photo shoot before the 1996 All-Star game. As the AL stars were stepping off a makeshift platform, Chicago White Sox pitcher Roberto Hernandez slipped and slammed his forearm into Ripken's nose while trying to catch his balance.
Although Ripken broke his nose, he had it reset and played into the seventh inning. Of course, he was back in the Orioles' starting lineup two days after that.
While The Streak will ultimately be recognized as Ripken's most notable feat, Ripken has also excelled on the field. He appeared in his 16th straight All-Star game this summer, won Gold Gloves in 1991 and 1992 and was named AL MVP in 1991 and 1983, the last year the Orioles won the World Series.
"I know of many injuries he's had and he's certainly been able to deal with them in a very, very spectacular way," Angelos said. "I think he's done the right thing.
"When you see it happen you wonder how anyone could have done what Cal has done here," he added. "I don't believe anyone will ever equal it."
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